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Pickled Cabbage No Frogs

Tuesday 28th February, grey and still morning. Days of mist clearing to blue, a scoured, dry April feeling to the weather for our February trip to Stratford on Avon where we saw three kingfishers darting along the river at Tiddington, numerous swans and geese, and crowds of amazing tropical butterflies in a sort of big hot humid plastic shed called Butterfly World; oh and a good play, with the added value of young Ebenezer (Raymond Coultard) from The Muppets Christmas Carol playing a lovely bishop in wonderful ivory satin robes, (who unfortunately turns into a baddie) oh and a good meal, fine dining enough to please Gabriel the Masterchef addict, but free of furniture polish icecream. Stratford on Avon, we were suprised and pleased to find, still has Closing Time, and curfew on the town centre streets by midnight is almost complete. How unlike our own fair city, and what a good idea!

Inspired by a true story, wonderfully staged and not much constricted by facts, (to my relief, says Helen Edmundon, or words to that effect, I discovered that the life history of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz has plenty of gaps*) The Heresy of Love is a highly charged, cracking good show. Except if it had been me, I'd have given the soliloques to Sor Juana herself, rather than the aforementioned lovely bishop. Who only said exactly what any naughty bishop would say, when succumbing to the temptation of flirting with a beautiful, intellectual nun. Whereas Juana, the mystery woman, could have told us a lot...

I saw the male blackcap yesterday, singing madly from the peak of the cypress tree. No frog activity at all. (This is general, apparently. Frogs should be breeding now, and they aren't) There has to be a year when the decline is over and there is nothing left. I don't think it will be this year, but who knows.

And that's the end of Occupy St Pauls, finally evicted. Occupy smouldered, but it did not catch fire at least not over here. And despite the horrible cost of living with this truly shameless and destructive greed is good government of ours, we'd be worse off if there was more accelerant around, I have to admit. Because look at Syria... Look at Eygypt, indeed. Or Baghdad.

Look what happens to the women after the revolution, or the forced regime change, and you know everything.

I have pickled the red cabbage.

*likewise her online presence. Looking for resources, I found mainly start-ups

Special Feature: No Child Born To Die

Ash Wednesday, low light, mild grey sky, light breeze. The goldfinches squabble on the thistle feeder, five is the most we've seen and that's probably all that remains of the small flock that used to frequent Linda and Ron's acacia tree cafe. Did they disperse, did some fall victim to that white beak disease? Anyway, here they are, flashing their amazing yellow underwings, and threatening each other with tiny grrr and getoff noises...

a pair of Great tits eating suet, have become very faithful. Yesterday a pair of blackbirds feeding on our holly berries. how big and strong they looked, beside the tiny mobsters.

& the content today is brought to you by Save The Children:

Here's a video:

Here's a "fantastic store cupboard soup" by Jamie Oliver:

But I'm not going to be making it because I already have my plans for this soup instead:

I can of chickpeas, drained
Or 6oz dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 potato roughly chopped
about half a curly savoy cabbage, chopped
1 large tomato, peeled and chopped
Or 1-2 tablespoons of ready-chopped tomatoes
2tsp of tomato paste
one bunch dill, finely chopped (around 25-50g weight, according to taste)
3tsp vegetable stock powder and 1 litre water
Or 1 litre vegetable stock

Put them all together in a big pan. Bring to the boil. Simmer for at least an hour and a half, or until everything's really tender. Serve with yoghurt and strong bread.

This is from Mahdur Jaffery's Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook.

Except, mine is the old edition, so I'm not sure. But it's the thought that counts, & the thought is, eat frugally today, out of respect for the children who are starving. And do something to make their plight better known. Plenty of suggestions on the site.

The Soup

Monday 20th February, a frosty morning, ice on the pools, rime on the grass. Clear sky clouding over. And still no significant rain for us. There's going to be a serious drought in the South East of England this summer, we've been saying for months but I think we're past the point of no return now.

Really vintage birthday last week. Excellent presents, including a fancy trip to Stratford to see The Heresy of Love next weekend, and my very own Snow Leopard. Also I beat my boss, I rode my bicycle for the first time in 10 years and only fell off a bit, once, and the goldfinches found the thistle feeder. This week is dedicated to eating pancakes, embarking on Lenten detox, and composing GOH speech for Benelux, which is going to be about Ghosts, and Dreams, and Nothingness (I'm appearing as Ann Halam, in spirit).

Have read Twilight, finally (I fell asleep in the movie, could not see the point of that lad with the Jedward hairdo). Liked it for the first while, a lot better than I liked the first Harry Potter anyway, but then when it got to the lovely couple making-out in the meadow, was surprised to find how creepy... On the screen, I can see that you get a lovely Cinderella teen and a beautiful mythical monster teen. On the page, I just got the inescapable impression that this was a big grown up man manipulating, or as they say grooming, a helpless little girl. Still, me not teenage girl. Or father of teenage girls, which I believe is also a very enthusiastic target audience. Have also read #1 of The Hunger Games. Liked it and found it very readable, but didn't like it as much as Gregor the Overlander and his sister.... Reason, I suspect, is me not girly, so not interested in the reality show Cinderella aspect, whereas in the Battle Royale context me definitely shreddie. . But will persevere.

Saw Martha Marcie May Marlene, and thought it wonderfully creepy, but hard to rate because the other half of the equation (the yuppie couple) were such place-holders. They needed something to do, and I'm not saying they needed to be killed and eaten. Did I get faint hints that both these sisters had sexual abuse in their history? Something subtle and unsettling, anyway, to match M.girl's story.

Watched the first episode of Homeland last night. Psychotic high cadre CIA vs a ginge with a funny twitch and an unreasonably pretty wife, whose teenage daughter hates her, ho hum. What's this lone turned Marine going to do, grumbles Peter. Well, of course, he's going to assassinate the President, what else?

Have made the soup (red pepper and sweet potato). Have read New Scientist, have reluctantly set aside Why Beauty Is Truth (I'm up to quaternions, and Hamiltonian systems are looking good for the Remote Presence story). Have run out of distractions.

The Dickens Issue

Wednesday 8th February, ice still hard, very dry, grey skies. The birds have made a bit of a comeback: I've seen one of the female blackcaps two days running now, and great tit, hedge sparrow & one male chaffinch as well as my faithful blue tits & robin. Crowds of sparrows in my brother's garden yesterday.

Charles Dickens has been on my mind for the last couple of years, originally because of a novel he wrote called Bleak House, which, as you may remember, features a family civil action case, over a disputed inheritance. Jarndyce vs Jarndyce finally, at a leisurely pace and after ruining many lives (some of the recipients eagerly embracing their ruin, others just in the wrong family at the wrong time), completely destroys both the family and the inheritance, and absorbs all the money in legal fees... After trolling my way through Bleak House, and appreciating the anaesthetic effect of its deft storytelling, I later decided (never having been a fan) that I would set myself to read my way through the workd of the great Charles Dickens on my commute from Brighton to Manchester.

Previously, and apart from A Christmas Carol (which depends for a lot of its effect on the incomparably greater modern work, A Muppets' Christmas Carol) I'd only met Dickens novels as "set books" in secondary school. I remember being thrilled by the Magwich opening of, Great Expectations, and intrigued by the mysterious Miss Havisham and Estella (Estrella?) set up, but then the tide of coincidences began to roll in across the mudflats, and in the end I lost patience.Hard Times was memorable, in that I still remember Mr Gradgrind and his utilitarian philosophy of everything, but I don't remember being moved or gripped by the story... I think there was David Copperfield too, but can't recall a thing about that one, except for the dolly little child bride, about as much use as a hamster, who rather annoyed me. Meanwhile, all adult, ie non-classroom based, literary and intellectual opinion seemed agreed that Dickens was a sentimental hack, a big bit of a hypocrite and no great shakes as a novelist either. But I'm now an adult myself, so I know that fashions change & you can't tell fashion from reliable reporting until you try.

I started with Little Dorrit, for the very good reason that the tv version had recently been filmed using the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich (aka these days Trinity College of Music) &, thus the modern mind, I've walked those hollowed pavements a few times so I felt a connection... Then resolved to start again at the beginning and read The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist in succession, plus I ordered the Claire Tomalin biography from Father Christmas.

My verdict? Definitely a sentimental hack, and a big bit of a hypocrite. Had only one or two ideas for plots/characters/situations, which he recycled shamelessly and relentlessly. And no doubt the same will be true, mutatis mutandis, of the great fictioneer of our times when he (well, obviously, but okay, outside bet on J K Rowling) comes to be enshrined as a cultural icon... Of course (this is in response to Claire Tomalin's view on the subject) he "resorted to prostitutes", what's more, internal evidence suggests he preferred girls at least as young as anybody could possibly consider decent. In fact that's obviously why he quietly supported a small and kindly reformatory for getting girls off the streets. He was not heartless, and he had an imagination. He married the wrong woman, poor man, and visited his marital disappointment on a long parade of monstrous fictional females, to match the long parade of infuriating insolvent fathers. Which is forgiveable, I suppose, but it's harder to forgive the author of Nicolas Nickleby for fathering a mad succession of children he insisted he didn't want, and then sending the boys off to the most ghastly prisonhouse boarding schools, where they had to stay even over Christmas... His "never mind the quality feel the width" writing style led him into the mire again and again, with the last third or so of any given novel just about bound to collapse under its own weight. Little Dorrit is awful for this: I was embarrassed for the man. They say he worked hard at his meticulous plotting. I pay him the compliment of saying, frankly I do not believe it. On the other hand, he was a terrific, if self-indulgent (but the two things go together) natural storyteller, and a terrific master of the art of arousal; ie the vital art of gripping an audience's attention. And (further in response to Claire Tomalin) he certainly knew how the English talk and behave, how desperate, drunken prostitutes behave, how extravagent and wild the underclass can get. Seriously, you'd think he'd been studying such scenes all his life.

I salute him. But.

Pickwick Papers is mainly an interminable waste of time and space. And they don't half drink a lot. Stunning non-stop consumption, even by the standards of C21 UK.

Oliver Twist is the one I recommend, the pick of the bunch, coincidences & all

& then my mother died, and I have set the task aside.

Dry As A Bone: Science Fiction As The Art Of The Possible

Thursday 2nd February, hard frost, dry as bone, everything crackles, my hair whips around the brush, hard ice on the pools but not a feather of frost.

Noticed this yesterday, on the bbc:

Here's me apologising to Stephen Cass a few months ago, having cooked up a story for the Technology Review SF Anthology, out of two New Scientist articles, a dream and a quote from T.S.Eliot, when I was supposed to be writing about tech that might actually be on the horizon. I needn't have worried, apparently.

For our next trick, The Day After Tomorrow. Nothing spectacular going on here, but it's cold, even in Brighton. The cats huddle in the house, all day. Ginger exploring the back of my desk drawers, hoping for a secret passage to Narnia. Then at four in the morning they want to go out, presumably convinced it will be warmer in the dark.

Absence of birdlife continues. A pair of bluetits and the robins, that makes three visitors, because I only ever see one robin. A blackbird in passing, occasionally. No sign of the local flock of goldfinches, nNo finches of any variety, no thrushes, I haven't seen the blackcaps for a long long time. There's going to be an answer to this puzzle, and what's the betting it won't be "not to worry!"

Keynote picture is bare beech branches at Nuthurst, December